I’ve always loved Vincent van Gogh. Even before I knew anything about who he was or what his thoughts on painting (and life!) were, I connected with his art in a way I didn’t really have words for until I formally learned about him. Academically put, it’s because I empathize with a lot of the art made during the Post-Impressionist movement due to the push towards more expression of the artist’s emotions in their art with blatant disregard for whether it makes the painting an illusion or not — but simply put, I just get his art because I can feel the emotion in it. I’ve learned since that lots of this emotion put into van Gogh’s work and his ability to be so in touch with his emotions was probably influenced by his battle with mental illness, but I think also by his great capacity to love. He is quoted saying “Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” How can you not love an artist who speaks words like that?! That’s definitely my new mantra for the week. In this post, I want to talk a little bit about van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Tournesols van Gogh Triptych 2
I think this is my favorite Sunflowers by van Gogh!

For my birthday this past March, a friend gave me a puzzle of van Gogh’s Sunflowers and I was beyond thrilled to put it together! The amazing combination of a puzzle, an artist that I love, and my favorite flower made this gift a “very Ivy” gift, in the words of my dad. It was a spectacular quarantine activity also! It took me quite a long time to complete because the colors and apparent texture of each piece were very similar. I tried to separate them into piles of background, vase, and flower, but it seemed every time I was looking for a specific piece, it would be in a completely different pile than the one I was looking in! In reading more about this work of art, I can validate the challenge of putting this puzzle together due to the fact that Vincent van Gogh was deliberately experimenting with color in his flower still lifes. He painted five different versions of sunflowers in a vase all using only three shades of yellow “and nothing else”!

Vincent van Gogh Triptych Sketch
Here’s the sketch van Gogh included in his letter to Theo!

Aside from his interest in experimenting with a monochromatic yet complex design, he was interested specifically in sunflowers. A lot of other artists didn’t want to paint sunflowers because of their coarse nature, but van Gogh took them on and they became very synonymous with him as an artist. His friend and fellow post-Impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin, was a big supporter of van Gogh painting sunflowers, and even influenced Vincent to paint several sunflowers to put in the room that Gauguin was staying in when coming to visit. Something fascinating about these artworks is that two of them were meant to form a triptych with La Berceuse! In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent writes about arranging these pieces together, and provides a quick sketch that allows us to imagine it looking something like this:

These artworks displayed together are meant to allow the yellow “panels” on either side of the Berceuse to amplify the colors of the portrait. As a whole, the arrangement of these is meant to symbolize gratitude, which is something van Gogh already believed that sunflowers convey. I would have to agree with him on that account, as well as add that I feel sunflowers are a symbol of hope, especially in the way van Gogh paints them. Sunflowers are always growing to face the sun, therefore are always striving to find the light. Vincent van Gogh tends to paint sunflowers in a variety of stages of life – some drooping, some not yet in bloom, some standing tall and brilliantly yellow. The inherent nature of a sunflower represents that you can still search for the light no matter where you’re at right now. I’m sure Vincent van Gogh appreciated that message, and I hope that you do, too. 🙂

Have a great Monday and an even better week!! See you soon.

Featured Image Triptych Research

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